Before I left for college and departed my parents’ nest for good, unaware that the flight away would be final, my family moved three times, which would make us pretty nomadic in Serbian terms. Upon graduating from Medical school, Father started working in Novi Pazar, the city that paid his tuition and reserved his services as the young MD for three years. I was born in March, delivered by an old Muslim midwife who managed the delivery ward with unrelenting confidence on the tail of decades of experience.
We moved to ÄŒaÄak (pronounced chah-chahk) in June to join Njanja and Deda-Ljubo, Father’s parents. My sister and my brother were born within the next four years and most memories of our early childhood are tied to that stately yellow house with wrought iron gates, the shed that always smelled of smoked meats, a huge mulberry tree with a swing, Deda’s beloved roses, and Njanja’s lush hydrangea bushes.
When I was eleven, Father got an apartment from the hospital (in socialist times, that was the only way the new family could disengage from the parents and start from the beginning), located only a block away from the yellow house. Our building was brand new, pink with white balconies, architecturally daring and modern, with straight lines and stuccoed walls. Mother finally had a kitchen big enough to spread her culinary wings and she made it into a cozy, warm spot, all orange and brown. It overlooked the city park and was bathed in the soft northern light.
I loved that apartment, but I was at an awkward age when we lived there, and I will always associate it with the anxiety, paranoia, and teen angst that engulfed me and threatened to destroy me at times. My cheerful polka-dotted pull-down curtains were always drawn; my window was always shut for fear of “the people” hearing what I had to say; I prepared for hours every time I had to leave the house and when I was outside, I would look straight ahead of me and rush, rush, rush to the store, convinced that everyone around was just staring at me, laughing, and whispering.
I was in high school for a few months when we moved again, only two blocks from our apartment, a block away from the yellow house. The yellow house was doomed, marked for demolition by the urban planners. In its place there was going to rise a skyscraper, and my grandparents had to move. The city offered several houses in exchange, and they picked the one that Mother and Father still live in. But the transition was not swift, nor easy, as a smaller house had to be erected in the place of the summer kitchen for Njanja and Deda, and the ceilings in the big house were lowered to make a second floor a possibility. Mother was the main engineer, architect, and designer, along with being the cook who fed the numerous crews who worked on the house for months.
In the end, it was perfect. The three of us had command of the second floor, my brother in one room, my sister and I in another. There was a huge balcony, a big open living room, a bathroom, a dark room for photography, and a storage room. We loved it, even though we did not understand at the time how fortunate we were. Understandably, every party was held at the house, and it became the hub of activity. To this day, many people remember the days and nights spent at our place, with Mother providing the victuals and Father taxiing the guests home.
I went away to college and came back every two weeks, unable to break the ties with my hometown and my family. That house continued to be the pillar of my security and even now I call it ” my home”, even though it has not been my home for twenty five years. There are memories engraved in every inch of its walls, in every tile, in every corner of our multi-angled, wood-covered second floor ceiling. I spent some of the best days of my life in the house, and it resonates with my friends’ laughter, with my sister’s giggling, with my brother’s 80s music, and my boyfriend’s whispers. The house moved on, gaining new memories and new sounds, but for me, it remained cemented in an age that makes me feel happy and strong.
I moved fifteen times since I arrived to America in August of 1986. My sister rolls her eyes when she tells me that there are no lines left in her address book for me anymore. I laugh it off, knowing that she’ll adjust. When we moved from Ohio to California in August of 2008, it was out of desperation and hope. We landed in Orange County because we had Ohioan friends living next door and nobody else. We left our beautiful house on the lake to come and live in a tiny apartment surrounded by hills and people who like to spit on the sidewalk. The girls declared that they hated California. And we were scrambling to prove them wrong.
It took three whole years of me working at a yucky diner and Husband taking whatever work he could find until he finally found a writing job that would enable us to make a leap forward and move away. We are still holding our breaths, but we think we are home. After a couple of weeks of grueling work, back pains, and total exasperation, we are at peace. We found a place we can call home and our girls are going to like California.
This morning Husband and I walked to the beach. It took us fifteen minutes to get to the Strand and we were in awe of the beauty that surrounded us. We know we can be happy here, once we are free of the boxes. Our spirits are high, our energy is spiking, and our hope is at a new high. We are ushering the New Year in completely loving our new digs and anticipating a future that can only be awesome for us.
It gets harder and harder every time we move. We are growing older and the physical exertion cannot be ignored. I know that we will move again. But we know that the next move will put us into a place of our choice that the girls can call home for decades to come. This interim place is making us happy and letting us breathe with full lungs, adding the ocean air as a bonus.
For the new beginnings and the promises of New Year I have a festive dish that adorns many a Serbian celebratory table. It is a savory roulade made with spinach dough, cheese filling, and roasted red peppers.
FESTIVE SPINACH ROULADE
- 6 eggs
- 6 Tbsp flour
- 6 Tbsp milk
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 500gr (1lb) blanched spinach squeezed of water, chopped (you can use two packages of frozen spinach)
- 250gr (1 cup, ½ lb) crumbled feta (or cottage cheese)
- 4 Tbsp sour cream
- 2-3 Tbsp cream cheese
- 1 tsp salt (if the cheese is not too salty like feta)
- 1-2 roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Separate the eggs and whip the egg whites into a stiff meringue. Add the yolks, and mix well. Add the milk and mix until combined. Sprinkle with salt and add the flour and baking powder. It should look like the cake batter.
Stir in the spinach until it is combined thoroughly and pour into a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (If your pan is bigger, the roulade will be thinner and more decorative). Spread the batter evenly with a spoon and shake the pan a few times to get rid of the bubbles.
Bake for twenty minutes, like you would a cake batter. When done, roll the dough into a roulade using the parchment paper and let cool. In the meantime prepare the filling.
Crumble the cheese and combine it with sour cream, cream cheese, and the salt, if necessary. Spread the cheese mixture on top of the green dough and lay pieces of roasted red pepper on top. Roll tightly with the parchment paper and place in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours.
When chilled properly, remove from the fridge and slice into ½ inch thick pieces. Place on a platter and serve.
I brought Spinach Roulade to our monthly Food Bloggers LA (FBLA) meeting hosted by Erika of In Erika’s Kitchen. For the round-up of all the wonderful recipes visit Dorothy’s website at Shockingly Delicious.
Last year at this time I wrote The Night We Came Home with a great recipe for Mulled Wine.